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Jack's Journal: Breathing

I have a riddle for you: what is absolutely essential to keep us alive, but we barely have to pay attention to it? You do it thousands of times each day, but most of the time it is in the background. Not until something is wrong with the process does it become something that you actually need to bring into your conscious thought. Have any ideas yet? It’s breathing!

You may be thinking I’m ridiculous for bringing up something so easy and so mundane. You also may be thinking, “I’m breathing right now and I breathe during exercise, so what?” Like I said, the problem doesn’t manifest itself until it becomes an issue that you need to address (if you’ve ever had a hernia, you know what I mean). There are two ways to address your breathing: focusing on your breath while in non-strenuous situations, and then strenuous situations.

Non-strenuous situations can be sitting on your couch, lying in bed, or doing light strength exercises (like a plank). My favorite time to focus on my breath is when I’m lying on a foam roller. Not only do I get a chance to collect my thoughts and shut off all the things going on around me, but I ready my lungs and rib cage for exercise. Actually, I’ve made the aforementioned breathing exercise as a part of my warmup before a run.

For all you endurance athletes out there, deep, diapraghmatic breathing has consistently shown to lower the heart rate and decrease stress hormones within your body in a state of rest. The idea behind using this as a warmup is to have a lower heart rate at submaximal exercise efforts and thus an ability to go longer using the right energy sources. The jury is still out on how effective this is, but I say you be the judge and give it a try! It’s just breathing, so what is the worst that can happen?

If you consider yourself a casual athlete, focusing on your breath can still help you relieve some stress as well as working your core! Okay, well it won’t help in getting that “six pack” you’ve wanted, but it will strengthen your diaphragm. Your diaphragm, if you don’t already know, is a muscle deep within your chest that assists with breathing; it contracts and relaxes (just like a muscle) when you inhale and exhale, respectively. The diaphragm is a part of your core’s deep, internal musculature which helps you stabilize your upper body during exercise.

Speaking of exercise, when you are out for some cardio have you ever noticed that you are gasping for air, never really able to catch a full breath and fill your lungs? If this is you, I encourage you to think about your inhale to exhale ratio.

The simplest way to think about your inhale/exhale ratio is literally taking the time to observe how long your inhale is and how long your exhale is. With cardiovascular exercise, our muscles require oxygen. If they don’t get it, energy production stops and, ultimately, you do too!

At this point, I could ramble on and on about the oxygen exchange that happens in your lungs, and it could probably be extended to two or three posts in the future, but I am going to spare you the lecture and, instead, encourage you to even out your inhale/exhale ratio (meaning, inhale for 3 seconds and exhale for 3 seconds). Focus on evening out this ratio, not only at rest, but in exercise, as well. Think “deep and full,” not “short and hollow.”

Not many people consider breathing as a part of their exercise routine, but it is essential for us to function, right? Just like we train other muscles, we can work on controlling our breath with our diaphragm. Be the judge, try it out! Control your breathing, don’t let your breathing control you.

If you’d like help setting and achieving your health and wellness goals, please contact Jack Zahn at to set up an appointment.

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